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Introducing President David J. Skorton Saturday morning during Reunion before his final State of the University Address, Professor Glenn Altschuler, Ph.D. ’76, gave a heartfelt assessment of Skorton’s nine years at the university’s helm.
Altschuler, the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies and dean of the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions, said that “some time must pass” before Skorton’s tenure as president can be placed in historical perspective. However, he said, Skorton will be remembered for his “durable and enduring” commitment to making a Cornell education accessible to all, for being “a remarkable leader during the Great Recession,” and for having the “scale, scope and vision” to create the Cornell Tech campus in New York City.
Altschuler also praised Skorton’s ability to raise money: “Completing a $6 billion campaign, after all, is no mean feat,” he said. “In doing so, President Skorton brought new meaning to the phrase – borrowed from football – ‘If you kick off, make sure Cornell receives.’”
The line was greeted with laughter and applause.
Skorton’s tenure also was marked by a deep-seated and sincere concern for the health and well-being of students, staff and faculty, Altschuler said, along with a willingness to act, such as his challenge to the Greek system to end hazing and his support of increased health services for students.
“During the last nine years, the answer to the question ‘Is there a doctor in the house?’ has been a resounding ‘Yes – a cardiologist with an enlarged heart,’” Altschuler said.
Taking the stage, Skorton embraced and thanked Altschuler, then thanked his wife, Professor Robin Davisson, “for all she has done and continues to do as part of this wonderful university and for sharing this extraordinary journey.”
He recalled his and Davisson’s first visit to a Cornell Reunion Weekend – in 2006 before he officially became president – as their introduction to Cornell. “We were sure we had come to a very special place, and that turned out to be a huge understatement,” he said. “We thank all of you and each of you, and will truly miss Cornell and the faculty, staff, students and alumni who contribute, in your own special way, to this university’s strength.”
There has been much to celebrate in Cornell’s sesquicentennial year, he noted, although it also is a year of “complicated transitions” for Cornell, with a new president, Elizabeth Garrett, on the way, and several top leadership roles in transition. Garrett, he said, “is incredibly bright and energetic and articulate, and she is going to be terrific for Cornell.”
Skorton, noting that alumni “are a critical factor that holds this university together,” told them they “have a central role to play in helping to preserve continuity and effecting positive change.” He said alumni can help by understanding and celebrating the achievements of Cornellians, via philanthropy and by serving as volunteers, advocates and ambassadors.
“I hope you build upon your long-standing connections with Cornell,” Skorton said, to help the university continue to remain true to its founding values: excellence, access, a broad, evolving curriculum and a commitment to public engagement.
He encouraged alumni to welcome Garrett and her husband, Professor Andrei Marmor, “as warmly as you welcomed us, and to provide her with ideas and feedback and support that will help ensure a successful transition and even greater achievements for Cornell.”
Skorton, who steps down as president June 30 to become the next secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., concluded: “And know that even though we are moving on to new opportunities, Cornell will always be in our hearts.”
Returning to the stage, Altschuler thanked Skorton for “the kind of approachability, and decency, that is a rare commodity among university presidents” and welcomed student a cappella groups After Eight and The Hangovers to lead the singing of the Cornell alma mater.